The weirdest part of Rihanna’s new album, “Anti” (Roc Nation), is that all the mistakes and false starts involved in its messed-up roll-out actually seem to match its stridently anti-commercial vibe.
“Anti” arrived for real in the middle of Wednesday night – first as a bootleg after it was mistakenly made public on Tidal for a short time, then as a free download, and finally as a stream on Tidal, which Rihanna partially owns. (It is expected to go on sale Feb. 5.) The confusion was par for “Anti”’s very long and twisted course, which left many wondering if it would actually arrive before she begins the “Anti” world tour Feb. 26.
Well, all that fretting shows in the album, which unlike Rihanna’s previous seven albums has no real uniting sound or theme. “Anti” is all over the musical map — everywhere except the hip-hop-leaning dance-pop center that she has occupied since blasting on the scene in 2005.
She sounds like Dido on “Never Ending.” She covers indie darlings Tame Impala’s trippy “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” for the even hazier “Same Ol’ Mistakes.” She teams with The Weeknd and rumored boyfriend Travis Scott for an icy, jagged piece of alt-R&B called “Woo.”
As experiments, they’re interesting, but they’re not exactly memorable. Even the first single, “Work,” featuring Drake, doesn’t really stack up well as her enviable streak of hits, though it does stick with you.
She saves the real surprises for the end. The gorgeous “Love on the Brain” is pure Muscle Shoals soul where RiRi lets loose stunning vocals that owe more to Nina Simone than the woman who sang “Umbrella.” If she would have led with this, the conversation about “Anti” would be very different.
From the roll-out and the lyrics of “Anti,” it seems Rihanna wants us to forget what has come before and embrace her as a new, more serious, artistic singer, but the unfocused material here doesn’t quite pull through.